Archived Story

Report: Industry must change to fill jobs

Published 4:31pm Friday, March 8, 2013

By Dee DePass
Minneapolis Star Tribune

MINNEAPOLIS — Manufacturers must increase pay, train, promote the trade and quit being so picky if they want to fill job vacancies, according to a state report released late last week.

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development studied manufacturing and two other key sectors that regularly struggle with the so-called skills gap, all in the hopes of learning why employers can’t find qualified workers.

The study surveyed 213 employers with 1,536 job vacancies and found that manufacturers had the biggest problem, with two-thirds struggling to find workers. That compared to half of engineering firms and only a third of nursing employers.

Manufacturers reported that machinists and computer operators were hard-to-fill factory jobs. But the reasons went beyond companies not finding qualified candidates.

“There’s really no way around it. They are really going to have to step up and make these occupations a little more attractive to people and also provide some on-the-job training,” said Oriane Casale, assistant director of the department’s Labor Market Information Office.

Across the manufacturing, nursing and engineering sectors, the study found that 45 percent of job vacancies proved tough to fill because of skill mismatches, unattractive pay, lousy hours, location or a combination of those factors. Only 15 percent of vacancies were difficult to fill because candidates lacked the right skills, education or experiences.

The study found that manufacturers looking for computer numerical-control operators, process control programmers and machinists often require just a high school degree. But they also demand three years of very specific experience. Employers admitted that experience, not candidates’ education level, was their chief problem.

Casale said the report’s findings also suggest the need for more on-the-job-training, internships, apprenticeships and better partnerships with high schools, community colleges and trade schools. Such approaches helped build a good supply of well-trained nurses during the recession, she said.

In addition, the survey also revealed that manufacturers must step up their game in promoting the industry.

“It’s no secret that manufacturing is [still misperceived] that it’s a dirty, boring career,” said Steve Hine, director of the Labor Market Information Office. “And it’s certainly the case that manufacturing is difficult to look at as an area of growth opportunity” for young people.

The state lost 25 percent of manufacturing jobs since the 1990s. In addition, many employers acknowledged their pay was not competitive, Hine said.

The combination of job losses and pay suggest the industry has work to do before vacancy rates will be filled faster with promising candidates, he added.

Employers often worked around their hiring problems by using temporary contractors and asking existing employees to work overtime. In other cases, employers delayed expansions and new production introductions. About 38 percent of employers surveyed said job vacancies prevented them from meeting customer demand.